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Over twisting mountain roads, 60 miles from the capital city of Caracas, lies the lovely little Venezuelan city of Maracay. It is not easy to reach, not even easy to find on your map. Yet one day last week Maracay was the focus of the Spanish-speaking world—and of men everywhere who are drawn to the encounter of the matador and the fighting bull.
For in the world today two matadors stand together as the greatest. Never until last week had they matched their talents directly against one another in hand-to-hand (mano a mano) competition. Last week Spain's Luis Miguel Dominguin, 30, and Latin America's C�sar Gir�n, 22, had an appointment in Maracay.
Their ages and temperaments whetted expectations. Dominguin was born, as Spanish-speaking people say, to silken diapers. He is the son of a famous Spanish family of matadors and bull-ring impresarios. When he retired, a multimillionaire, three years ago, he was the world's acknowledged Numero Uno. C�sar Gir�n's diapers were old flour sacks. The son of a Venezuelan carpenter, he began life hawking peanuts on the streets of Caracas. But after Dominguin retired, Gir�n fought his way to the very top.
I had come from Mexico, two thousand miles away, to watch them decide which, now that Dominguin has returned to the ring, is Numero Uno. And, like everybody else within the confines of Maracay, I had come to watch for a ghost, the ghost of Manolete, the greatest bullfighter of them all.
Nine years ago Manolete was alive, 30 years old and the king of the plazas. The pushing young rival then was the 21-year-old Dominguin. In one bullfight after another, pressed by Dominguin, Manolete carried the fighting closer and closer to the bull's horns, anxiously trying to reprove something that had been proved a long while before, that he was forever the best. Then one afternoon at Linares, Spain, with Dominguin in the same ring, Manolete came too close to the horns. Next morning, hopelessly bleeding from wounds in his viscera, Manolete died, and cast the Spanish world into long mourning.
The hand to hand between Dominguin and Gir�n would have packed the plazas of Madrid, Barcelona and Mexico City with crowds up to 50,000. But, thanks to Venezuela's prosperity, the test fell to Maracay, and its little 8,000-seat Moorish jewel of a plaza, patterned after Seville's Plazadela Maestranza. By charging $13 for the poorest seats and $75 for the best, Maracay was able to guarantee $30,000 each to Dominguin and Gir�n.
Tension built up as the Sunday of the fights approached. People waited for hours in the lobby of his hotel for brief glimpses of Dominguin, tall and imperious, as he glided off in a big black Cadillac to hunting parties on the ranches of old friends or returned in the evening for sleep. Sipping sherry with friends, Dominguin addressed himself to why he had returned to the ring. Money was the main reason; he used a lot of it. But there was something else too—the gusano, the worm that gets inside a man and brings him back again and again to the bulls. "As a matter of fact—" he smiled—"I never really lost sight of the bull's face. On my ranch I've fought them. I never really retired. You'll see."
C�sar Gir�n, meanwhile, awaited the day in a house jammed with his relations, 11 of his brothers and sisters, two cousins and his parents. He spent long hours in hard training, up every morning at 7, a swim, then a game of fronton tennis and a couple of miles of roadwork. After breakfast he stood for hours in front of a mirror, practicing his passes. He complained that though he has adopted Maracay, the city has not properly adopted him. "They boo me here," he said. "I had to go to Spain to be somebody."
They are very different, these two. Gir�n smashed through to success and pulled his whole family out of the gutter. He has a poor man's love of possessions. He talks for hours about his television set, his deep freezer, his Mercedes, Hispano-Suiza, Fiat and Buick. At a gas station he is immediately out of the car to talk with the attendant about the exact pressure that must go into his tires, the exact oil for the engine. He is jovial, shouts cheery "How art thou, my loves?" to girls who giggle or scream at him from passing cars. Dominguin would die first. He does not shout at girls. Women come to him, and if they are worthy of it he kisses their hands. He has not the slightest interest in what makes his car run. If it stalled, he would walk away without a glance backward. It is the difference, people agree, in their diapers years ago.
They are strange figures, dwellers in a land where death can come any Sunday afternoon after 4 and they lead lives straight out of grand opera. Dominguin was scarcely 24 when the Duke of Pino Hermoso in great agitation called on Generalissimo Francisco Franco to save his daughter from the wiles of the bullfighter who was, the Duke agreed, charming but a commoner. The generalissimo waggled a warning finger at Luis Miguel. For months Ava Gardner, who has a great feeling for bullfighters, followed Dominguin from one corrida to the next, later switching her allegiance to Gir�n. Meanwhile, when Dominguin's marriage to Lucia Bose, the Italian movie actress, was announced, Miroslava Stern, a Mexican movie star, committed suicide with a picture of Dominguin in her hands.